Earlier this year I set out to find a new bike. It needed to climb good, but it didn’t need to be great, I wanted it to shine on the downhill which for me means I wanted it to be fun and a bit “poppy” but with a bias towards stability. I knew I was going to be ridding Mountain of the Rouge, Forest Park, with some Ashland Shuttle days sprinkled in so I wanted an all-mountain mountain bike that got out of the way and just let me have fun. I start with all of this because I know that we all are looking for something a little different from our bike purchases and I thought it would be important to give context to what mattered to me in my decision making process.
Most of my life I have been pretty brand loyal, I have owned at least 4 or 5 Stumpjumpers, and my last bike purchase was a Santa Cruz Blur LT (8 years ago). The last two bikes I have owned (2001 Stumpy, and 2008 Blur LT) just never felt like they were “right” for me. In the past I was not really a spec guy I just went by look, feel, and brand experience. This time I really wanted to dig deeper and find a bike that felt right for me. This led me on a 3 or 4 month process of demoing different bikes learning about the current state of bike technologies, etc… I ended up purchasing a Pivot Mach5.5 which is a smaller brand I had not ever heard of, but I have been so happy with the purchase and I thought I would share a little about the bike and my experiences with it.
My search started on the internet, reading reviews, looking for what bikes had “the internet’s” attention and eventually I ended up in the Unreal showroom asking for a Santa Cruz Bronson. As I was talking to Peter about why I wanted a Bronson I realized there was going to be more to this equation. So I ended up talking to Peter about 27.5 vs 27.5+ vs 29, Bronson vs Hightower, the Yeti he was about to buy and I was still no closer to my perfect bike (I mean we all know that you don’t really know a bike till you ride it). Thankfully Unreal sponsored some great demo days for both Yeti and Santa Cruz. I test rode all kinds of bikes on those demos and others, I built a spreadsheet, took notes on what I liked and didn’t like about the bikes I was ridding. After it all I knew I wanted a bike with a long reach (I’m a believer in long and low geometry), I wanted 27.5” wheels with 2.6” tires (wide but not plus) with suspension in the 130-150mm range. I liked the Bronson on paper but it was just not quite as snappy as I would have liked, the 5010 felt balanced and fun but I really did want more travel, and the Yeti’s were fun but I wanted a little more reach. Just about the time I came to this conclusion Pivot launched their new Mach5.5, it ticked the boxes so I was off to find a place to test ride one. It felt right (Enough suspension with the right balance of stability and peppiness), Unreal could get them, so I pulled the trigger.
I have been ridding the Mach 5.5 now for about 5 months now and I ride 3 days per week when I am in town. This is my review of the bike, and my experience ridding it on local trails.
Are those plus tires?
I am a fan of wide tires, I just can’t think of why I would not want a large contact patch to keep me upright. I really wanted the stiffer side-wall of a regular tire so I was not going to go with the 27.5+ tires. Coming off of 26” wheels I was not ready to make the jump to a 29er. When I learned about the new 27.5 x 2.6 tires, it seemed like the perfect compromise. Pivot did the right thing on this bike and put the 2.6” tires on some wide rims (35mm), and the combination feels so good. Before I purchased the bike I also felt like it was nice to have the option to go down to a 2.4” regular tire if the 2.6”s were too wide. But now that I have ridden the 2.6”s I won’t go back.
It’s Future Proof (Sort Of)
In the modern mountain biking world it seems like future proof means it’s good for the next 2-3 years. Things change so fast you can’t ever predict what they will come up with next. That being said, this bike has room for the wide tires like I discussed, but it also has the necessary ports for the yet to be released Fox live shock system, and accommodations for the Shimano Di2 electronic shifters. All nice options for the future.
I really can’t say enough about how well this bike climbs. I started out climbing with the shock locked out, but I quickly found that trail mode or even wide open is a better climbing option. There is no feeling of slogging as you peddle especially during power moves up rocks or short bursts. I expected the bike to perform on the downhill but I was not prepared for how well it climbs. In my first month on it I was setting PR’s on the climbs and the descents. The DW Link Suspension lives up to the hype for sure.
On long fire road climbs I find that I am in a slightly more aggressive position which feels perfect for me, the front tire tracks straight and true without excessive wandering, and I can just get in a nice grove. The longer reach (18”) is a dream when I’m on the long climbs, I never feel like I have to get off the saddle to power up steep sections. The geometry of the frame puts my center of gravity right in the middle of the bike and I feel like I can really put power to the cranks from the seated position. This was something I absolutely did not expect from this bike. I was fully prepared for this bike to climb good but not great, but in the end I have found it be a great climber.
In more technical trail climbs, as I said before it powers up steep sections and up rocks like a dream. You have to approach the technical climbs with the rear shock in trail mode or full open. I found that the locked out position on the rear shock is fine for fire road climbing but for the technical trail climbs the locked out shock back fires on you and it tends to slide out. So keep it in trail mode and the Mach 5.5 will absolutely reward you with each peddle stroke.
If you were to ask me how it compares to a full on XC bike, I really could not say, I am sure skinny tires and various other considerations could make the Bike climb faster, but I don’t feel like I am “slow” on the climbs and I never feel like I am fighting the bike or making “adjustments” to my set up or position on the climbs. It’s great to be able to leave the shock in trial mode and hammer all over the mountain without having to think about the bike at all. After all the bike should get out of the way and just enable you to climb and ride the trail with pure confidence.
As good as the Mach 5.5 is to climb with its even better when you point it downhill. This is where I will try not to gush about the bike but you will for sure have to endure some overly stoked hyperbole. When the gravity part of the ride begins it is nothing but pure joy. The term “confidence inspiring” is a way overused term in bike reviews but this bike is confidence inspiring and then some. When I get off the saddle on the descents I am perfectly centered in the bike and in the perfect position. I am rewarded with a feeling of being “in” the bike vs “on” the bike and it’s not just confidence inspiring, it is downright performance enhancing. The longer reach on the descents give me plenty of room to move and I always feel like I’m in the right spot on the bike.
My amateur opinion is that the combination of the long reach, short chain stay, with perfect head tube and seat tube angles all add up to this sweet, balanced feeling on the bike. The faster I go, the more I am rewarded. I find the bike to be quiet on the small bumps, locked-in on the turns, and able to muscle it’s ways through chunky sections well.
I rode a number of bikes with a long reach. Most long reach bikes I rode were great on the descents but I struggled a bit too much with them on the climbs (wandering front ends, or wallow-y suspension) or they just gave up too much maneuverability for my taste. They did not have the well rounded feel that the Mach 5.5 has.
The long wheel base makes the bike feel stable at speed for sure, it tracks great while at the same time making last minute corrections or tight turns a breeze. It strikes a great balance of playfulness, quickness, and stability.
In summary, I find the Mach 5.5 to be the perfect “Burly Trail Bike”. It’s got more travel than most of the “trail” bikes I demoed and its beefier and more stable at speed. It has been the right fit for me and probably the best bike purchase I have made in over a decade. I would like to also say that these are just my thoughts and experiences, I’m not an expert, I’m not the fastest guy on the mountain nor the most experienced. I really liked many of the bikes I rode when I was evaluating my purchase and I would have been stoked about owning most of them. With the Mach 5.5 I didn’t just find a great bike but a perfect fit, that’s rare, and that’s why I am so stoked.
The guys at Unreal have, in my opinion, have the best stable of bike brands around and they have been a great shop to work with in everything from major repairs, quick fixes, and everything in between. If they could not get Pivots I would have made a different purchase, that’s how much I believe in good local service and support. Being new to the area, I wanted some local views on things like tires that work well in the dirt around here, good trails to ride, etc… and having good shop support helps with all of that. I think the demo days that they sponsor are super valuable as well. In the end I was fortunate enough to be able to make the right purchase for me and I hope, if you prioritize similar things in your ridding as I do, that you get a chance to try a Mach 5.5.
Pivot Video reviews:
Vital Review of the Mach 5.5
Pivot’s Review (Even though it’s a marketing piece, I found it to be accurate based on my experiences with the bike)
If you are looking for a “bigger” bike….2018 Nomad N4 vs 2017 Firebird